PAUL MCDONALD, 26
Hometown: Huntsville, Ala.
“I used to dress up all the time in funny stuff,” recalls McDonald (at about 3, right). “I wanted to be a comedian.” Now known for his Rod Stewart-esque rasp, he taught himself guitar in high school, then used all his savings to start a band in college. “A year and a half later my dad said, ‘You’re actually really good! Where did this come from?'” he says, laughing. “I was like, ‘Thanks, Dad!'”
PIA TOSCANO, 22
Hometown: Queens, N.Y.
“The minute I was potty-trained I had to be in tap, jazz and ballet,” says Toscano (2, left). “I was a little diva.” At home, her father shot her routines to “I Will Always Love You” and “I’m Every Woman.” It wasn’t until junior high when a teacher heard Toscano’s rendition of the national anthem that singing became her passion. “I wanted to sing at the Super Bowl after I saw Whitney Houston do it,” she recalls. “At school from then on-during morning announcements, graduations-they had me singing.”
JAMES DURBIN, 22
Hometown: Santa Cruz, Calif.
Of his rock-star pose at age 4 (below), Durbin says, “I’ve always been a ham.” But his Adam Lambert-like voice was no joke: It helped kids see past his Tourette and Asperger syndromes. “At a middle school choir audition, I went up against the highest girl soprano and sang higher than she did,” he says. “Everyone stood and clapped. Suddenly, I wasn’t the weird kid anymore.”
NAIMA ADEDAPO, 26
“My first musical encounter was feeling the vibration of my mother’s voice,” says Adedapo (left, at 2), whose mom is a jazz vocalist. She says she realized her own destiny after crooning the Billie Holiday tune “Strange Fruit” at one of her family’s traditional Nigerian celebrations. “My dad said, ‘Alicia Keys ain’t got nothing on you!'”
LAUREN ALAINA, 16
She awed karaoke crowds with Christina Aguilera tunes on vacay in Daytona, Fla., but her first star turn came at 3. “Mom says I wailed to the Dixie Chicks from my car seat. I hit the notes, but you couldn’t understand me.”
STEFANO LANGONE, 21
Around age 5, he’d wow his family by playing “Moonlight Sonata” on the keyboard. Also gifted at clarinet, sax and trumpet, he shocked class-mates at 13 by singing during band practice: “They were like, ‘You have a voice!'”
KAREN RODRIGUEZ, 21
New York City
“I was 4 and played ‘Chopsticks’ for my friends,” says Rodriguez. “Then at 5, I sang in a talent show in Queens. I did Selena’s ‘No Me Queda Mas’-I remember people applauding. They had me back every week.”
ASHTHON JONES, 25
Though she didn’t have her signature locks as a toddler (“They probably taped the bow to my head!” cracks Jones), she knew how to rock at a young age: “My mom told me the first song I sang was Salt-N-Pepa’s ‘Push It.'”
CASEY ABRAMS, 20
Hometown: Wilmette, Ill.
“That’s my microphone,” Abrams (below, at age 15 months) says jokingly of the hose he used to try to spritz dad Ira. Not that the toddler needed a mic to break into song, says mom Pam Pierce: “I realized he had an ear as we drove around doing errands. He was 2, and rather than sing the melody, he’d harmonize to the Beatles. It was a little scary!”
SCOTTY MCCREERY, 17
Hometown: Garner, N.C.
He hummed “Bye, Baby Bunting” for his doctor when he was only 1 and coveted this guitar in a Mexican store at age 3 (left). “I kept strumming it,” recalls McCreery, who was giving command performances by kindergarten. Says the deep-voiced country boy: “My teachers would pull me out of class to sing ‘You Are My Sunshine’ for other teachers.”
THIA MEGIA, 16
Then 5, Megia felt ill but rallied to cover the Rolling Stones'”Satisfaction” at a party. “I wanted to perform,” she says. “Then I went straight to the hospital with a fever.”
JACOB LUSK, 23
“My dad gave me this piano,” says Lusk, then 1. “He was a jazz musician who died when I was 12. My mom didn’t encourage my music, but she’s happy now.”
HALEY REINHART, 20
“I was 3 and I wanted to be a ballet dancer,” says Reinhart. “I went up on my tippy-toes without the wood-tipped shoes. I’d give shows to everyone.”